While #5 Michigan State didn’t enter the spring session with many questions regarding position battles, fans may have seen the Spartans’ solution to the backup running back spot.
Sophomore Connor Heyward was one of a number of standouts from Michigan State’s annual Green and White Spring Game on Saturday, helping solidify himself as a member of the Spartans’ backfield rotation when the team returns to the field this summer.
While Heyward’s body type differs from his ICONIC father Craig “IRONHEAD” Heyward, it is impossible to see the son and not recognize the fearless running style of his ICONIC dad. Like IRONHEAD, Connor carries his pads and attacks people with no fear.
After carrying a large portion of the workload in the backfield, along with returning starter L.J. Scott, Heyward said that this spring has helped prepare him for having a bigger role this season.
“It’s definitely been a lot, but it helps also and it helped prepare me for today,” he said. “Obviously, L.J., he’s played a lot in his career, so he didn’t need all those reps, but I think it helped me tremendously. It helped L.J. too, I think it helped us get in shape a little bit more and just learn everything, not just from the running back perspective, but everything.”
Heyward’s numbers in Saturday’s spring game, while somewhat pedestrian, 11 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown, the 6-foot, 225 pounds running back proved he is a capable option for the Spartans out of the backfield.
A quarterback and wide receiver in high school, Heyward said that it took some time to get used to his new role this spring and getting regular reps was a big help for him this spring.
“At first, it took me a while to get used to it, just always being in between the tackles and not really on the edge, so you’re taking more of a beating,” he said. “But I think being back there, you’re in more of a rhythm so I think that’s helped me (instead of) one play and you’re out kind of like last year. If you’re in there, you’re not just getting your feet wet, you’re getting in more of a rhythm as you go.”
Arguably Heyward’s best moment in Saturday’s spring game was his series where he carried the ball on four consecutive plays for 20 yards and finished off the series with a touchdown for the offense’s first score of the game in the second quarter.
Following the spring game, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said that Heyward’s versatility and ability to contribute in the passing game are some of the things that stand out to him.
“He can really play a lot of positions for us, he can play on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “He’s probably about 225 pounds, he can catch the ball very effectively and be a return guy. So he does a lot of different things in the backfield for us, he played quarterback in high school. He does a lot of things and he’s only a (sophomore) so we’ve got some help coming at that position, we held L.J. out after about a quarter and a half or so, so we feel good about that position.”
With Scott holding down the starting position at running back, Heyward is in position to serve as the team’s No. 2 running back, while Alante Thomas, who also saw time in the spring game and incoming freshmen Elijah Collins (Detroit U-D Jesuit) and La’Darius Jefferson (Muskegon) will also compete for playing time this fall.
Heyward echoed what his coach had to say about his versatility and said that he believes he and Scott will make significant contributions in the passing game, along with the running game this fall.
“I think I can help extend plays on third downs,” he said. “Me and L.J. both, and all of our running backs, I think we’re all versatile enough but haven’t really shown it. I think this year, me and L.J. are going to show that we’re versatile as a receiver in the slot or wherever we line up, not just running the ball.”
Stay tuned to Spartan Nation for all of the latest news on Heyward the Spartans!
Want the latest breaking MSU news delivered straight to your email for FREE? Sign up for the DAILY Spartan Nation newsletter WHEN YOU CLICK RIGHT HERE! Don’t miss any of the latest up to the second updates on Michigan State Sports when you follow on Twitter @HondoCarpenter